Domestic violence survivors and their families banded together for an afternoon of healing, support and encouragement during the 2nd annual domestic violence conference: Arise & Conquer, hosted by nonprofit organization Divine Connections, HOPE (Hold On, Pain Ends) on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the Enterprise Building in downtown San Bernardino.
Domestic violence survivor Melinda Cuellar founded the faith-based nonprofit after she emerged from a harrowing and terrifying ordeal involving her ex-husband. Cuellar endured seven years of emotional, mental and physical abuse in her marriage. Six months after their divorce in 2015, her husband kidnapped her and held her hostage at gunpoint for several hours in her car. When he cocked his handgun Cuellar leapt from the car and a standoff with SWAT ensued. He was eventually apprehended, and later sentenced to 12 years.
Cuellar, a mother and grandmother, became a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate and through her organization, hosts support groups monthly in San Bernardino for victims and survivors of domestic violence. Additional services include education, clothing and toiletries, court and advocacy support, referrals and mentoring.
Cuellar and her DCH team, all of whom are survivors, created the conference in an effort to provide resources, support and encouragement to other women, and men, who are victims of domestic violence.
“Today’s purpose is for healing, for deliverance, for empowerment, and to save lives,” Cuellar, the San Bernardino native who currently lives in Loma Linda, said to the assembled crowd. “What you see today is all God. He saved us, He restored us, He filled us. He has put a passion in us to reach out to other hurting women, those who are still bound by abuse, but not just abuse, our heart goes out to every hurting woman whatever the reason may be.”
Senator Connie Leyva attended the conference and addressed attendees.
“Women stay in bad relationships because they cannot support themselves,” Leyva noted and added that she advises her two daughters to get married only because they want to, not because they need someone to care for them. “Being up at the State Capitol I feel honored I get to work on those issues and try to make sure that women have those good jobs.”
Leyva shared legislative updates in regards to women’s safety – she introduced legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape victims that was signed into law in 2016 by former California Governor Brown; this year Governor Newsom signed legislation that requires every rape kit to be tested between 60 and 120 days; Leyva worked on a bill that allows a felony charge for sextortion – the practice of forcing someone to do something, particularly to perform sexual acts, by threatening to publish naked pictures of them or sexual information about them.
Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes also dropped by to show her support of the conference. She stood by Cuellar in Sacramento when she was recognized by the state Latino Legislative Caucus with a Latino Spirit Award for Achievement in Community Empowerment in 2018.
“It’s so wonderful to be here, to know that you are all together in this, and I’m there with you, I’m your ally in any way that I can help,” Reyes expressed. “You can count on me and my office for anything that you need.”
District Attorney Tamara Ross, Melinda’s prosecutor, reminded the audience that domestic violence is a battle, not just a physical battle, but a mental and spiritual one that causes the victim to question their self worth, fear for their safety and future, and that of their children.
“Many women don’t make it through the battle, but Melinda fought through her fear,” Ross declared. “Be leaders to those who are still in the battle.”
For more information, you can reach Cuellar at (909) 929-9066 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on social media at Divine Connection, HOPE.